A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

by Stéphane Henaut, Jeni Mitchell


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One of Smithsonian magazine’s “Ten Best Books About Travel of 2018”

One of AFAR magazine’s “8 New Books You Need to Read Before Flying to France”

“It’s the authors’ friendly accessibility that makes these stories so memorable.”
— Christine Muhlke, The New York Times Book Review

“A very cool book about the intersections of food and history.”
Michael Pollan, New York Times bestselling author of How to Change Your Mind and The Omnivore’s Dilemma

“Savor this book in bite-sized morsels, the better to enjoy every bit.”
Dorie Greenspan, “On Dessert” columnist for The New York Times Magazine, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Around My French Table and Dorie’s Cookies

A French cheesemonger and an American academic and ex-pat join forces to serve up a sumptuous history of France and its food, in the delicious tradition of Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle, and Pamela Druckerman

From the cassoulet that won a war to the crêpe that doomed Napoleon, from the rebellions sparked by bread and salt to the new cuisines forged by empire, the history of France is intimately entwined with its gastronomic pursuits. A witty exploration of the facts and legends surrounding some of the most popular French foods and wines by a French cheesemonger and an American academic, A Bite-Sized History of France tells the compelling and often surprising story of France from the Roman era to modern times. Traversing the cuisines of France’s most famous cities as well as its underexplored regions, this innovative social history explores the impact of war and imperialism, the age-old tension between tradition and innovation, and the enduring use of food to prop up social and political identities.

The origins of the most legendary French foods and wines—from Roquefort and cognac to croissants and Calvados, from absinthe and oysters to Camembert and champagne—also reveal the social and political trends that propelled France’s rise upon the world stage. They help explain France’s dark history of war and conquest, as well as its most enlightened cultural achievements and the political and scientific innovations that transformed human history. These gastronomic tales will edify even the most seasoned lovers of food, history, and all things French.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620972519
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 85,476
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Stéphane Hénaut ’s wide-ranging career in food includes working in the Harrods fromagerie , cooking for the Lord Mayor of London’s banquets, and selling obscure vegetables in a French fruiterie. He lives in Berlin.

Jeni Mitchell is a teaching fellow in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She lives in Berlin.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Our Ancestors, the Gauls 5

2 The Virgin of the Kidney 10

3 Barbarians at the Plate 14

4 Ode to Gluttony 18

5 Left Behind: The Goats of Poitou 22

6 The Sweetest King 26

7 They Came from the Sea 31

8 Feudal Fare 37

9 Of Monks and Men 43

10 Fighting for Plums 49

11 The Wine That Got Away 55

12 The Vegetarian Heresy 61

13 A Papal Red 68

14 The White Gold of Guérande 73

15 Legacy of a Black Prince 78

16 The Vinegar of the Four Thieves 84

17 The Cheese of Emperors and Mad Kings 90

18 La Dame de Beauté and the Mushroom Mystery 94

19 Fruits of the Renaissance 99

20 The Mother Sauces 105

21 Conquest and Chocolate 110

22 The Culinary Contributions of Madame Serpent 116

23 A Chicken in Every Pot 122

24 The Chestnut Insurgency 128

25 The Bitter Roots of Sugar 134

26 The Liquor of the Gods 139

27 The Crescent Controversy 145

28 War and Peas 148

29 The Devil's Wine 153

30 An Enlightened Approach to Food 159

31 Revolution in the Cafés 163

32 Pain d'Égalité 169

33 The Potato Propagandist 174

34 The Pyramid Provocation 180

35 The Man Who Abolished the Seasons 186

36 The Fifth Crêpe 189

37 The King of Cheeses 193

38 A Revolutionary Banquet 197

39 The End of the Oyster Express 203

40 Revelation in a Bottle 210

41 The Curse of the Green Fairy 215

42 Siege Gastronomy 221

43 The Peanut Patrimony 228

44 Gastronomads on the Sun Road 233

45 A Friend in Difficult Hours 238

46 A Mutiny and a Laughing Cow 244

47 Bread, Peace, and Liberty": The Socialist Baguette 249

48 Couscous: The Assimilation (or Not) of Empire 254

49 The Forgotten Vegetables 262

50 Canon Kir Joins the Resistance 268

51 France and the United States: From Liberation to Exasperation 274

52 Conclusion 282

Acknowledgments 287

Bibliography 291

Notes 293

Index 321

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A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like the idea of reciting history in the bite-sized concept. Combining history, wine and culinary, "A Bite-Sized History of France" uses an interesting way to retell the history. Overall a great read but there are few dull moments. It's great to read a chapter or two every day. The chapters are short and easy to understand. 3.5 star rating overall.
oldwarden More than 1 year ago
A fantastic way to learn history! Rather than another boring list of dates, people, and events, the authors take a completely different route. Use the deliciously wonderful foods of France to explain history! Why did the Romans consider the Germanic tribes barbarians? One big reason was because they cooked their food with butter, rather than olive oil! They also drank beer instead of wine. How uncouth! Did you know why soldiers called the Germans krauts? Because of their association with sauerkraut! Potatoes, honey, champagne, crepes....it's all in here, and tied to historical events. I only wish that I would have had this book when I was a student. How much more interesting history classes would have been!
Rosemary-Standeven More than 1 year ago
I love French food, I love visiting France, and I am really interested in history, so this book was made for me. It is a staggering tour de force covering 2500 years of French history from the pre-Roman Gauls to the present day, showing the influence historical events had on the eating habits and cuisine of the time, and how they in turn influenced history. The authors’ aim is to show “how ludicrous it actually is to claim there is a “pure” and unchanging French cuisine”, and they spend a lot of time pointing out how crude, bigoted and plain wrong groups like the Front Nationale are claiming that there exists quintessential French Food and eating habits, unsullied by foreign hands. “Many elements believed to be ineffably French—the wines and liqueurs, the pastries and chocolates, the flavors of Provence—are not native to France but arrived upon its shores over the centuries and were gradually absorbed”. There is so much information in this book, and so many interesting facts to note down, but it never gets boring. The narrative style is very readable and witty, so you don’t feel weighed down by it all, and keep wanting to read more and more. There are introductions to great French leaders such as Charlemagne, Henry IV, Louis XIV, Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle, and how they used food to define their eras. Over the centuries food became a signifier of differences in class; in religion; in philosophy; in politics and as a flag of patriotism and nationalism. The book charts the change as “the spicy-acidic flavors of the medieval era were supplanted by the cream, butter, and herb triumvirate associated with modern French cuisine”, through the gourmet (gourmand) culinary revolution to nouvelle cuisine and McDonalds. It deals with the advent of restaurants, cafés and bistros, and the rise of the ubiquitous baguette (actually only popular since the 1920s!). Scientific breakthroughs are discussed that leading to increased food preservation and availability, such as Appert’s bottling (precursor of canning), and Louis Pasteur’s work on improving wine production, that lead to huge leaps forward in the field of human health. The importance of cheeses (especially Camembert and Brie), of regional wines and champagne, to the French identity cannot be underemphasised. Other alcoholic drinks such as brandy, cognac, calvados, absinthe and Kir also have their part and historical imprint. France’s food has been moulded by slavery, colonialism and war. The slave and sugar trades were predominantly routed through Nantes. The warping of Senegalese agriculture to provide peanut oil to France, used in soap manufacture and “supplanting olive oil in dressings and driving a new taste for fried foods”. The North Africans and Pied Noirs brought couscous, now a French staple. I have travelled a lot in France, and tried so many local regional dishes, but this book shows that I have barely scratched the surface. I now have a huge list of places to visit, things to eat – enough to keep me busy and very well entertained for many years to come. I read this book on my Kindle, but loved it so much that I have bought two hard copies – one for myself, and one for my mother-in-law (another Francophile). I would recommend this book to anyone who likes food and/or history and/or travel and/or France. Something for everyone. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review